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Market Focus - Plastics

At the end of July, the Environment Agency (EA) announced it would be enforcing the ‘broadly equivalent’ expectations of waste exporters.

It released data showing that checks on waste containers destined for export have increased by more than 400% year-on-year. This new data is evidence of the EA’s new tougher approach to illegal waste shipments, with more than a quarter of containers being returned to waste sites for reprocessing or detained for investigation.

There is still more that can be done to ensure enough precious resources are reprocessed here in the UK. There needs to be even more inspections by the EA, alongside a specific focus on the enforcement of the legal requirement that green list materials are consigned to a ‘broadly equivalent’ facility in the receiving country – with exporters having to provide practical evidence of where their waste containers end up and the ‘recycling’ process they are then subject to.

It should be a criminal offence if this documentation, perhaps in the form of independent written verification and photographs, is fraudulent or not forthcoming. Only by producing this information can the EA confirm that exporters are actually using broadly equivalent processes to the UK in overseas markets.

The EA also revealed that it is asking exporters to ensure they complete Annexe 7 of their waste shipment documentation, which outlines where waste is going and how it is being processed in overseas markets. This supports the Resource Association’s (RA) Destination Charter to which several councils have signed up.

We understand that some exporters are concerned about revealing what they believe to be commercially sensitive information to their competitors. So we propose that the EA adopts a digital reporting system where exporters disclose this information to the EA but it does not become publicly available, and therefore not subject to freedom of information requests. This would en- able exporters to satisfy the requirements of the EA and for the EA to closely monitor compliance.  

WRAP’s report, Approaches to the Marketing of Dry Recyclables by Local Authorities, highlighted that councils need to be more accountable about where their collected waste ends up. We believe this provides them with a big opportunity to support domestic recyclers.

It encourages councils, particularly those that do not have their own private waste contractors, to get a better deal on waste by using MRFs as a processing service while retaining ownership of their waste. This also encourages greater transparency, something we know local authorities are keen to see.

Each of these announcements is obviously important in its own right, but when you consider them together their combined significance cannot be underestimated.

They point to a recycling industry that is finally coming of age; one that is waking up to its full potential and understanding its importance in laying the foundations for a circular economy. It sends out a positive message to investors too: we are not afraid to enforce and change regulations to support not only the Waste Directive but Britain’s wider green economy.

What we need now is the political will across all parties and whatever the outcome of the general election to continue laying the foundations for the future of our industry.

Chris Dow is chief executive at Closed Loop Recycling

Resource Association Contamination Value Chart

In September the RA revealed its contamination value chart for recycling collectors, which is part of its ReQIP (the Recycling Quality Information Point) web-based information hub.

This is another important development for local authorities, which can now understand the impact that different collection systems can have on the recycling stream, and how they can achieve maximum value from the materials they collect. Adherence to the quality spec should also ensure that councils comply with TEEP under the revised Waste Directive.

This new system sets a benchmark for high-quality recycling in the UK, which will not only benefit the environment but create economic benefits at a time when local authorities are looking to make efficiencies.

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